Will new top-level domains promote cybersquatting?

ICANN seeks answer at public meetings about intellectual property issues

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is hosting two meetings this week -- one in New York City and the other in London -- to discuss the trademark and cybersecurity issues surrounding its plan to introduce hundreds of new top-level domains into the Internet.

Similar meetings will be held in Hong Kong next week and Abu-Dhabi in early August.

At these public meetings, ICANN is discussing the protections that it will give corporations so they don't have to spend huge sums of money purchasing their company and brand names in all of the new top-level domains.

ICANN plans to introduce hundreds of top-level domains - such as .nyc, .sport and .food - next year.

Wary about this plan, U.S. corporations with large portfolios of domain names have asked ICANN for special protections for trademark owners to prevent cybersquatting and other deceptive practices such as phishing.

Steven Metalitz, president of ICANN's Intellectual Property Constituency and a partner with law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, said the ICANN meeting in New York City focused on preventative measures that ICANN can put in place to prevent cybersquatters from registering trademark-protected names.

``The meeting also included the malicious conduct issue,'' Metalitz said. ``We believe the new TLDs will provide a lot of new opportunities for phishing, pharming and malware, and we are trying to minimize the risk.''

In a May report to ICANN, trademark owners asked for three main concessions prior to the release of the new TLDs:

-- The creation of an IP Clearinghouse, which would be a database of trademark-protected company and product names that registries would consult before selling names under the new domain name extensions. Having a trademark listed in the IP Clearinghouse wouldn't prevent a registry from selling the name in one of the new extensions, but it would be useful to the trademark owner in battling a cybersquatter using ICANN's uniform dispute resolution policy (UDRP).

-- The establishment of a list of globally protected trademarks that would not be available for purchase from the new top-level domain registries except by the trademark owner. Included on the list would be global brands that have been registered in many countries and suffer from high levels of infringement. Having a brand included on this list would help a company avoid the legal costs associated with ICANN's UDRP process.

-- The creation of a streamlined procedure dubbed uniform rapid suspension that would allow a company to have a Web site created by a cybersquatter or typosquatter taken down immediately. Since three-fourths of all dispute resolution processes are uncontested, this streamlined procedure would save trademark owners time and legal fees in dealing with cybersquatters.

Trademark owners' main concern ``is to try to minimize the huge expenses that they have in protecting their marks in the new gTLDs,'' Metalitz said. ``They want to prevent defensive registrations and avoid actions using the dispute resolution process, which is quite expensive. They're looking for cheaper ways to manage this and more effective ways to manage this.''

Metalitz said many U.S. corporations were hoping that ICANN would delay or stop the introduction of new TLDs. But now that it appears ICANN is committed to the process, they are trying to figure out how to make the best of the situation by building better trademark protection into the registration process.

``For a long time, a lot of big brand owners didn't take this seriously. But now they see that this is coming,'' Metalitz said. ``They're all looking at it from the point of view of what do we need to do to prevent someone else from registering one of our brands.''

Whether the meetings will influence ICANN to make changes in its new TLD plans will be evident in September, when the non-profit policymaking body plans to release a new version of its New TLD Applicant Guidebook.

ICANN says the new TLDs will provide more innovation, choice and competition on the Internet, especially for non-English language domains. The new domains can be anywhere from three to 63 characters in length and can support Chinese, Arabic and other scripts.

So far, dozens of groups have announced plans to apply for new TLDs representing cities such as .paris, regions such as .africa, charities such as .green, and generic terms such as .food and .wine. Some companies plan to reserve their own names such as .deloitte.

Trademark owners, however, are worried about the costs associated with cybersquatting. Last year, the World Intellectual Property Organization reported a 7% rise in the number of domain name UDRP cases it processes. Since December 1999, WIPO has processed more than 15,000 UDRP cases.

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

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